Fumeral by Donelle Dreese
There are things that happen in this world that don’t make any sense. You can try to figure them out, but the rational mind is a field where only a certain kind of flower grows, and eventually it becomes apparent that there are different fields, and different flowers, so where do you look for answers? Sometimes you have to find a willow tree and sit under it for a while, or maybe you prefer a park bench that faces a gushing fountain, a porch step that overlooks a busy city street, or the top row of bleachers at an empty softball field. Sometimes you have to just wait and let the answers flow through you rather than seek them out.
Kerri had been my friend since the sixth grade. I don’t know when she started huffing. Perhaps it started innocently in art class with a bottle of glue. I remember one time Joey Danforth gave me a fresh bottle of glue and told me to sniff it for a good high. I sniffed. Nothing happened. Maybe it affects people differently. But I never thought of glue in the same way again after that. This stinky, gooey substance that is designed to mend and hold things together can actually tear someone apart. It may have started with glue for Kerri, but it didn’t end that way. It ended with that stuff people use to blow the dust off of their computer keyboards. I’ve never used it. Once a week or so, mom sweeps a damp rag over my keyboard to clean it off. Even if I had a mangy keyboard, I’m not sure I would care.
One day, Kerri started dusting, not her computer keyboard, but her brain. I wonder if she was trying desperately to clear away the clutter and confusion of this thing called life that our parents say will only get more difficult as you get older. It would be nice if they gave us something to look forward to. I can’t blame them entirely because I’m sure life at forty has its own set of challenges, but the pessimism does not offer much hope to a lost, insecure, and unpopular sixteen-year-old who already feels as if her life is controlled by the hounds of “no” and “not now.” I wish she would have used laughter to clear the cobwebs from the dark corners of her psyche instead of a toxic aerosol can that burns your brain cells, but who am I to judge? I deal with my problems by falling into fits of depression that drive my mom up a wall until I am finally able to pull myself out of the slop bucket of malcontent. But Kerri didn’t die from burned brain cells, she died because her heart couldn’t take it anymore. The dusting made her heart stop. She died from a broken heart and most of us will never know what caused it, or what made her start huffing and dusting in the first place.
The drive home from the funeral was silent. Mom drove while my friend Veronica and I sat in the backseat passing slips of paper back and forth with different drawings of frowning faces. Veronica drew a picture of a frowning old lady with curlers in her hair while I drew a picture of a frowning baby who had one hair swirling up from the top of his head. The drawings made us smile, if only for a moment. I suppose it’s in really poor taste to find humor in the faces of sad people, but funerals are like that sometimes, aren’t they?
When we got home, I opened up the trash and noticed that mom had tossed away all of the markers and bottles of glue in the house. “Mom, it looks like an art supply store threw up in our trash can. Why did you throw all that stuff away? I’m not going to start huffing.”
“I know honey. I just don’t want to look at that stuff for while,” she said quietly. “These kinds of things just shouldn’t happen. I feel so sorry for Kerri’s parents.”
Everyone has their own way of coping, I suppose. Veronica is probably the most introverted person I know, but she doesn’t feel the need to analyze and figure things out the way I do. Maybe it’s because she lives on a farm and she witnesses birth and death all the time. Maybe it’s because she lives near a small stream and has learned to go with the flow. Regardless of the reason for my overactive mental tendencies, I did draw a conclusion. When people say “stop and smell the roses,” I know they mean that we should all slow down and remember to enjoy life, but that phrase means something else to me now. I could sit under one thousand willow trees and never understand why this had to happen to my friend Kerri, but I’ll never forget that my breath is my life and what I inhale becomes a part of me. So if you have the choice between a rose and an aerosol can, always choose a rose.
Donelle Dreese is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Northern Kentucky University where she teaches multicultural and environmental literatures, creative writing, and composition. Her most recent publications include short fiction published in Gadfly Online, Sunsets and Silencers and Postcard Shorts.